NEWS

Editorial: Communication key during emergency

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

If anything positive can be taken from a public emergency or even a tragedy, it is the lessons we learn in the aftermath.

Almost invariably, one of the top lessons that come out of such instances is the need to be better able to communicate.

During the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech University last year, school officials had no communication system able to quickly warn the thousands of students on campus of the unfolding tragedy, likely contributing to the death toll. During last month’s midday snowstorm now referred to as the December Debacle, a lack of communication among school departments, highway departments, mayors and governors (mostly in Rhode Island) resulted in gridlock on the highways, dangerous snow-covered roads and school children stranded on buses late into the night.

In both instances, the ability to quickly transmit information to large numbers of people would likely have limited the damage and the resulting fallout. As technology continues to improve, so does access to communications networks. With the prevalence of cell phones, e-mail, text messaging systems and PDAs, there’s no reason a communication network can’t be set up to allow information to be transmitted quickly when circumstances arise.

Fall River, Mass., Superintendent Nicholas Fischer seems to have learned that lesson.

Fischer announced recently the school district is working on a contract with The NTI Group, operators of the Connect-ED notification system, to set up a communication network including the guardians of all 10,000 district students.

The system can send information to an individual parent or to all parents in minutes. Information can be sent by phone, e-mail and text message on an immediate basis or on a schedule. Whether a snowstorm is forcing an early school cancellation or — God forbid — a more serious emergency like a school shooting occurs, school administrators can be sure parents receive the information without having to wonder whether they’re watching TV or listening to the radio.

The Connect-Ed system can also be used for routine outreach to keep parents informed of events and activities at the school, or to conduct parental surveys. The system also informs administrators if a specific parent could not receive a message, alerting them of the need to update contact information.

"This will be a vehicle to get information out on what is really happening," Fischer said. And that information can be disseminated quickly, which is key. The school district’s plan is an innovative way to keep parents informed and involved in the schools and to help keep students safe when an emergency strikes.